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The Faces of Guatemalan Boxing

John Sevigny and Roberto Cuxil | Guatemala, Guatemala

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Unlike most countries in Central America, Guatemala has never had a professional boxing champion. Its thriving amateur scene more than makes up for that.

Guatemala has never had a professional boxing champion. Every other Central American nation except Honduras has produced international, championship fighters. Alexis Arguello, from Nicaragua, and Roberto Duran, from Panama are among the best known boxers with fame extending far beyond their small nations. Their shadows loom large over the history of the sport itself. Mexico just across Guatemala’s border, is sizzling hotbed for boxing champions, most notably, Julio Cesar Chavez, listed by The Ring magazine as the world's best boxer, pound-for-pound (meaning regardless of weight division) from 1990 to 1993.

Why not Guatemala? None of the coaches, young fighters, parents or fans we talked to seem sure but they aren’t worried about it, either. Guatemala is no Mexico or Panama but its amateur fight scene is boiling with talent, boasts hundreds of young boxers, and given that there’s little to no money involved in the game, seems far more pure than the often shady world of professional boxing. It’s refreshingly different from the United States and other countries where amateur boxing serves as a farm for an industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars if not more.

US boxing gyms don’t lack for good intentions, or good people with good motivations. But plenty of coaches who take on young fighters - even those still fighting in amateur, no-money bouts, are sometimes more interested in creating money-making stars than they are in guiding and protecting the boys and girls they represent through a physically dangerous career in which success is far less common than anonymity, poverty, and disappointment.

These 12 portraits, part of a larger group of pictures taken by Guatemala-native Roberto Cuxil and I this year at the combination boxing gym and auditorium at Guatemala’s government funded Cofederacion de Deportes in Guatemala City, were inspired by the people we met there. They include the subjects of the portraits themselves, trainers, families and hundreds of other people who support the sport merely by showing up and cheering on young boxers as they fight for a mostly symbolic, amateur championship belt that draws no attention outside the boxing community.

Unfortunately, there almost no coverage of boxing in the local media. Some speculate that even the amateur version of the sport is too violent for many Guatemalans to stomach. Ironic in a country that averaged 101 homicides a week in 2018 according to the US Department of State. In fact, we met boxers who were training to become airplane mechanics, planned on attending college, and whose parents said boxing had helped give structure to their lives. Nor did we see a single knockout, black eye, or a drop of blood.

Roberto and I hope these photographs will humanize what is often seen - and not without reason - as an inhumane sport. Boxing is not monolithic. There is more to it than Don King, Mike Tyson, bad decisions by bad judges, and dirty money. On the professional level, there are many excellent people. Far from the ring lights of cities such as Las Vegas and New York, meanwhile, there are the faces of Guatemalan boxing, clean, young, and eager to compete and win - but not necessarily eyeing fame or fortune.

As one trainer told me, “If there are 100 boxers here today, it’s unlikely that more than one of them will end up turning professional. And it’s not likely that he’ll become any kind of champion. But it doesn’t matter. Boxing is good for kids. You can see it in their faces.”

Roberto and I have been working together for most of 2019. He is a budding photographer and film school student in Guatemala City, a young man of proud Maya descent. I am a Miami-born, middle-aged, former photojournalist and long-time, independent photographer. Our differences in age, experience, background, and point of view have made this collaboration particularly rewarding.

While these portraits were made in Guatemala, this project is intended as a celebration of everything beautiful about amateur boxing everywhere.

Federación Nacional de Boxeo de Guatemala

John Sevigny: jmmsevigny@gmail.com

Roberto Cuxil: cuxilrodas@gmail.com

These photographs were taken during preliminary matches for the 2019 national amateur championship and the championship itself. There were over 100 boxers in attendance and many were photographed immediately before entering or after leaving the ring. Time was tight and we were unable to speak for more than a few seconds to many, much less write down their names or their cities of origin. Suffice to say we are thankful to all of them, and in particular, to the Guatemalan Federación Nacional de Boxeo and the Confederación Deportiva Autónoma for giving us access to their facilities during fast-paced, complicated public sporting events.

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